Sunday, March 14, 2010

Romside Metal Dolls House Components

I wrote this article for the August 2009 issue of Dolls Houses Past and Present magazine. Some of you may have read the article there, and seen the wonderful photo of a shop display of Romside components contributed by Eleanor.

I thought I'd post my article here as well, as 1) the back issues of the magazine aren't available on DHPP at the moment, and 2) I've realised that even the issue that is online at the time is not accessible to online search engines, so anyone trying to find info online doesn't see the magazine articles.

So this is not my usual style of post - it's a write-up of research into the history of the firm, using online resources familiar to me through family history research.

My Tudor Toys/Gee Bee house and shop, with Romside windows and door.

Romside Manufacturing Co made metal components for dolls houses, such as stairs, fireplaces, chimneys, shutters, windows and doors. Some companies, such as Tudor Toys / Gee Bee and Pennine, used Romside windows in their dolls houses, and the components were also available through Hobbies for use in dolls houses made at home following Hobbies’ plans.

Often, these dolls houses are confused with Tri-ang, a much better known firm. The easiest way to distinguish them is that most Romside windows have diamond shaped lattice panes, while Tri-ang houses almost always have square or rectangular panes.

My Lines DH/D from 1926, showing the typical metal window frames.

The inside of my Triang 52 (ca 1939) ground floor bay window, again with typical square paned metal window frames.

However, Romside also made square paned windows, the difference being that the Romside ones open. Lines did use diamond shaped lattice windows on some designs (eg in the Queen’s Doll’s House), but generally if a dolls house has original diamond shaped lattice windows, it is not Lines / Tri-ang.

Romside metal lattice windows, rectangular-paned windows, and door, from a certain website. (Not my photo.)

In her book A to Z 1914 to 1941 Dollshouses, Marion Osborne shows an advertisement from a Hobbies Annual, and says that apart from this, and one appearance in Games and Toys, Romside was a very elusive firm. She was told that there was a connection with Dixon Bros & Wood, a company which made metal toys, including large scale dolls’ furniture, before WWII.

Here is a little more information about these firms, from phone books and censuses, etc.
The first appearance of the name Romside in British telephone directories is in 1930, for a Sports Club! Romside Sports Club was listed at Brooklands ho[use], North St, Romford (1930-1948).

Romside Manufacturing Co. Ltd Engineers first appears in the telephone directory, above the Sports Club’s listing, in May 1938, at 119 North St, Romford, ph. Romford 2791. In the November 1938 directory, until 1942, the address is given as “rear of 147 North St, Romford” (same phone number).

Romside metal chimneys (not my photo)

From 1943 - 1947, the firm appears as “Romside Manufacturing Co. Ltd Engrs, Metal Stampers, 147 North st ph *Romford 2791”. So, to whatever engineering services the firm had supplied, they now added metal stamping. I imagine that during the war years their output would have been directed to the war effort.
From 1948 until 1964, the description “engineers, metal stampers” continues. The address changed in 1948 to Brooklands approach, North St, Romford.
In 1966, the description “engineers’ was dropped, and the firm is simply “Romside Manufacturing Co. Ltd, Mtl Stampers, 2 Brooklands app ph Romford 62286”. This entry continues through until 1973.

Romside lattice windows (not my photo)

An internet search on Romside found these references in Wikipatents:
“Improvements in and relating to hand tools GB Patent # GB603524 Abstract Trowels. DIXON, C. L., and ROMSIDE MANUFACTURING CO., Ltd. Oct. 23, 1945, No. 27890.
“Improvements in hand tools GB Patent # GB611198 Abstract Handle fixings. DIXON, C. L., and ROMSIDE MANUFACTURING CO., Ltd. April 25, 1946, No. 12484.”

(At least, that's what I found when I searched in May last year! Such is the speed of change on the internet, the same search now brings up this information on Intellectual Property Exchange, AND it names the applicant as "Cecil Leopold Dixon, Romside Mfg Company Ltd". But a year ago, all I found was C. L. Dixon, so my research proceeded without knowing what C. L. stood for.)

Here is the name Dixon, which Marion Osborne had been told was connected to Romside! Back to the telephone directories – C.L. Dixon is listed at 31 Sheila rd Romford, ph Romfrd 3982, from 1954 to 1960 (the address and phone number change to 31 Sheila rd Collier row Romford 43982). From 1961 to 1966, C.L. Dixon has the same phone number, but has moved to 132 Cambridge av Gidea Pk.

So it seems likely that C. L. Dixon was an engineer with Romside Manufacturing Co. Ltd (we’d probably need company records to know exactly what his role was). But where had he come from, and was he part of Dixon Bros & Wood, as Marion Osborne had been told?

Romside fireplace (not my photo)

According to Mrs Osborne, Dixon Bros appeared in the Toy and Fancy Good Trader in 1915 and 1917, and Dixon Bros & Wood appeared from 1934-1937. The advertisements included in A to Z 1914 to 1941 Dollshouses show metal kitchen sets, mangles and scales, metal bureaux with a faux wood finish, and bedroom furniture for large dolls. Dixon Bros and Wood were one of the British firms exhibiting and selling toys at an exhibition in Paris in 1936; probably the "striking set of metal kitchen ranges and household toys" were theirs. I don't have any DBW pieces; KT Miniatures has a photo of a "DBW TOYS" yellow metal kitchen cupboard. Update: Lizzie at The Dolls House Diaries has posted some lovely DBW kitchen pieces on her blog.

Dixon Bros & Wood first appears in the London telephone directory in February 1932, as Dixon Bros & Wood Ltd, Automatic Mchns, 92 Harrow rd E.11 ph LEYtnstn 1252. By August 1932, they had moved to 7 Forest lane E.15 ph MARyland 4461. By August 1933, their street number has changed to 1A Forest Lane, and the description has changed from Automatic Machines to Engineers. Toy Manufacturers is added to the description in 1935. This listing continued through 1938.
This unfortunately doesn’t give us their names. It would have been much easier too if C. L. Dixon had used at least his first name! However, after searching birth and death records and censuses, I think I have found the right family.
In the 1911 census, a family of Dixons is living at 185 High Road, Leyton, Essex. Marion Osborne notes an entry for Dixon Bros at Buckland Road, Leyton, in Toy and Fancy Good Trader for September 1917. So the address fits.
The members of the family are Walter, the head, an engineer change hand, born in Hull, Yorkshire; his wife Ellen; and three sons: Walter, aged 26, an engineer’s fitter, Cecil, aged 23, also an engineer’s fitter, and Ralph, aged 19, a shop assistant.
Thus Dixon Bros were probably Walter and Cecil Dixon, both engineer’s fitters. I have no idea who Wood was!

Romside rectangular-paned windows (not my photo)

Tracing the Dixon family back through the censuses, we find that in 1901, the family is living at 33, Citizen Road, Islington; father Walter is a Zinc Plate Worker, son Walter is an engineer’s apprentice, and Cecil is still at school. In 1891, sons Walter and Cecil were 6 and 3 respectively; the family was living at 10, Rodney Street, Clerkenwell, and father Walter J. Dixon is described as a “General Smith”. In 1881, Walter J. had not yet married – he was a Whitesmith, living at the Golden Lion, 8, Penkhull Street, Newcastle Under Lyme, Staffordshire. In 1871, Walter J. was a merchant’s clerk, and living at home at 10 Temple Court, High Street, Kingston Upon Hull. His older brother Arthur Henry Dixon, aged 20, was a Watchmaker and Jeweller. It seems that between 1871 and 1881, Walter decided that metalworking was more exciting than being a clerk!
The Dixon family were also at this address in 1861, when Walter J. was 4. His father, James Dixon Junior, is described as a Bank Messenger and Preserver of Birds [could this mean pigeon keeper?]. His mother’s brother Henry Lawson was also living with them – he was a Whitesmith + Bellhanger (Journeyman). Walter’s grandfather James Dixon lived next door – he was a tailor, so it seems likely that the metal working tradition came from Walter Dixon’s mother’s family. (James Dixon was born in King’s Cliffe, Northamptonshire, where my maternal grandfather’s ancestors came from. I am probably related to him by marriage, as my 3x great uncle married a Dixon in King’s Cliffe in 1844!)

I think these blue and yellow window frames, etc, are also Romside, but I'm not sure. (Not my photos.)

To summarize:
Dixon Bros advertised metal toys from 1915 to 1917. Dixon Bros & Wood Ltd, engineers and toy manufacturers, is known from 1932-1938. The sources I’ve had access to don’t show whether the firm existed in the 14 years from 1918-1931. The brothers were most likely Walter (1885-?) and Cecil Leopold Dixon (1888-1967).
In 1938, Romside Manufacturing Co. Ltd, Engineers (and later Metal Stampers) appears at Romford; C.L. Dixon was definitely connected with this firm. Romside existed until at least 1973.


  1. I read it in the magazine and I read it again. It, as well as your current article there, are facinating. I have a Romside door I use as a backdoor in my Triang 50 dollhouse kitchen. Thanks CM

  2. Thanks for clearing up some questions I've wondered about British dollhouses. I love knowing the history behind dollhouses, especially ones I am not so familiar with. Wonder why Romside never branched off into making little houses?
    Now, if I could just get you interested in researching my favorites...Keystone of Boston..... Keystone Mfg started off making big metal toy trucks and kiddie film projectors in the 1920s. Dollhouses were produced starting in the middle 30s...interested yet? :)

  3. Thanks, CM! Romside doors and windows are easier to find than Triang ones, so they're good substitutes.

    Hi Florine, glad you found it informative!
    I'm not so experienced in researching in US sources (though I do have American ancestors, so I've done some). I could have a go :-) Do you know any names of the people who set it up?

  4. Oh wow! I was sorta kidding, but if you like to do research and have spare time (what is that?)....Keystone Manufacturing Co founded Boston, Massachusetts in 1920's by Chester Rimmer and Arthur Jackson. First called Jacrim, produced junior grade movie projectors. Most of the info I know on Keystone is found in the Zillner books, but some is contradictory because of info discovered for later publications. Toy division sold in 1953, but has catalog from 1955. I have a Keystone catalog from 1938 giving a showroom address at 200 Fifth Ave, NY,NY. My newest Keystone house (still in box) was produced by South Bend Toy Mfg, South Bend, Indiana, instructions show Keystone Division. If you decide to do research/publishing and need photos, I have 22 different ones (4 and 6 rooms of one model, and 2 with same front but different sizes)Most are listed on my squidoo sites, links on my blog. DON'T feel obligated, as I understand they may not be of great interest to others. :) Cheers to YOU however! Flo

  5. Wonderful information, thank you so much for "directing" me to it. I am VERY behind on following my favourite blogs at the moment. Best wishes, Lizzie

  6. What a great article Rebecca. I enjoyed reading it. Your knowledge is amazing. Pan x

  7. Thank you, Lizzie and Pan :-)
    Lizzie, you are quite understandably behind on reading blogs! You can only do so much. I do love it when bloggers post simultaneously about the same topic, sometimes having read the other posts and sharing more info and pictures, and sometimes just by chance!

  8. hi i loved this blog i found a dolls house when i was 18 and for 8 years i have been wondering where it was from we found it in the skip and i had to take it home to resuce it, it has the same windows on it as in the photos and it looks handmade there is damage to it which im fixing and have been for a while now as it needs alot off work if you would like me to send photos i can do my email is if you would like to look at the photos off this lovly house many thanks xx

  9. What a great article! I have always wanted a Triang or Amersham dollshouse but to spend what they cost plus postage would be a cause for great marital distress :D so instead I have a collection of Romside windows and plan to make a repro one day. What I found particularly interesting was your 1926 Lines house, one of which I watched on a recent UK ebay auction because I liked the shape and which was unidentified. It went higher than I would have expected for an unidentified house - now I know why! I'll look forward to seeing more of your houses.

  10. Hi Christine, Thank you, and welcome to my blog! Yes, houses are often unidentified - sometimes an ebayer will let the seller know (that happened in the case of my DH/D), other times the bidders clearly know but no-one has told the seller - or the seller has ignored their opinions! You can sometimes get a very good bargain if you recognise a dolls house that's not identified - I think there are more and more well-informed ebayers, though.
    Making a repro is a great idea, but do keep an eye on Aussie ebay too (I'm sure you do!) Some English-made dolls houses were sold here, others were brought out by migrants 50 or 60 years ago. And apart from Amersham and Triang, there were several other dolls house companies, smaller and less well known, making dolls houses around the same time in very similar styles - like the fairly well known GeeBee/Tudor Toy and Conway Valley, and the more obscure Pennine, O.D. Products, Wheeler Woodcrafts and no doubt others. Some of these are very nice houses, and as more research is done, we'll know more about the makers and they could become sought after too. Good luck - maybe you will find one you love and can afford, as well as your repro!